Archive for the 'books' Category

Hilde Domin – reading

Thanks to Buchmerkur Schroersche Berlin [Link here], I have started searching for English/German side by side publications of Hilde Domin’s poetry. I’ve stumbled onto the poems translated by Meg Taylor and Elke Heckel online here. Autumn eyes/Herbstaugen is particularly lovely.

I’ve also been enjoying a book on Harlem by Jonathan Gill. From the first altercation between the people already living there and the Dutch, to its place in history as a place for Jewish and Irish immigrants to start out, race clashes, and the Harlem Renaissance. The book continues through 400 years, and I’ve only reached the jazz era. 🙂 But it’s all history we didn’t learn in school, so I’ve been having a great time learning how much I didn’t know.

Reading – The Railwayman’s Wife

RehobothsunrisebWritten by Ashley Hay

Has anyone else had a moment where you have to return a library book, and instead you renew it so that you can reread the last 15 or 20 pages over, again and again?

Guilty. <– that’s me.

That’s the moment when things turn, like a train doubling back on itself … and I think, “There was a moment when one person being in the wrong place at the right time would have been nice”. Set in Australia right after WWII, although with flashbacks we do visit before the war… It follows Anika Lachlan and her child after she’s lost her husband. Some things conveniently happen: the town sets her up as a librarian, two eligible men come back from the war. But other things are less convenient: both men are haunted by the war and their dreams, Ani keeps finding she is losing the essence of Mac, or feeling that his presence is in the way in every conversation. One man is a poet who has lost his words to the war, and his ability to teach young children. One man is a doctor with a surly personal manner. It’s like the perfect setup for a screwball romance, except it isn’t.

In Ani’s own words “The year I’ve had, Dr. Draper, here, with my daughter, making sense of this strange new world. I’ve lost my husband. I have this job. I wake up in my own room, in my own house. And yet everything, everything is different.”  It’s different from the other after-the-war novels I’ve read, possibly due to locale and the characters who seem independent of anything the writer was leading them to. Definitely a book to reread.

Reading: The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

Some books jump to the front of the queue, even when you have perfectly fine reading material home from the library. Val McDermid’s “The Skeleton Road” jumped to the front, in front of the latest Laurie R. King book, and in front of two other books that are due back at the library tomorrow. And it stayed in the front, and was read and reread in 4 days.

Brief sum up: satisfying mystery, with some comic characters, but painted with a very broad brush by the mixed-up sadness of war torn lands. Not sure this is a book I want to see on television, because some things are best left to the imagination. Probably I’m alone there. 🙂

I’m  glad not to have seen the blurbs about the book, since they would have colored my reading experience. I plowed into Prologue and first chapter from the start, and found it hard to go back to work after lunch break. Good cold-weather reading, when you don’t want to go out into the howling wind and shovel the snow.



Reading: All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes by Maya Angelou

egghalf_potteryAt the end of 2015, I spent my evenings traveling (via book) with Maya Angelou, as she explored the Ghana of 1962. In the past, I had read a portion of All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes either in an anthology or in a literary journal. The selection was a tight, interesting expository narrative. So, when I saw it on the library shelves in December, it came home.

These are her stories of struggling with wanting to belong, and having all of the history of Africa, America, and slavery in between her and that belonging. The journey is in a country that was just finding its feet, that was being wooed by Americans like Malcolm X, and also being plundered by art collectors from Western Europe. We’re privileged to sit at the table as the “Revolutionaries” feast on food from home in the USA, or to hear her explore the disconnect between what it costs to survive in the USA vs. what it costs to live in Ghana.

This is another book that just stayed with me, especially the moments when she felt that eerie sense of belonging, that her family had actually come from one of the countries that she visited. Read about the book in Goodreads . Do you think you, too, could identify with the quote:”The ache for home lives in all of us…”? Written in 1984, this autobiographical work feels more “real” than many. If you read or re-read this book, pay close attention to what Ms. Angelou chooses to disclose, knowing she can pick and choose what moments to narrate. The story of her drafting process →that’s one book I’d like to find in the library.

Reading: One of Ours by Willa Cather

Willa Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, One of Ours is an unexpected story of an unlikely hero whose life up until WWI seems rootless. We follow Claude Wheeler, from life as an alienated young boy, to a young college student who finds the culture he craves in Lincoln to have it taken away by life and choosing the wrong wife. I was honestly surprised by the desertion of his wife Enid (and her abrupt removal from the storyline). While I read, I idly wondered what the political climate was in China (siege of Tsingto in 1914?) during the outbreak of WWI, and if the pair would reunite, able to mature into a firmer relationship.

Everything seems set to move him from struggling to keep his father’s farm together while a new farm was being established in Colorado, to odd marriage (with a house built by his own hands on Nebraska farmland), and days drowsing in the corn he’s harvested, wondering what his purpose is. And events prime him to be excited at the thought of going where the trouble is, and enlisting as soon as he could. From Americans he met overseas who had enlisted in the Canadian air force prior to the US being in the war, to other farmers he met from other states, who were also swept up in the tide… the story moves at an introspective wandering pace.  If you want drama, and a look at how Americans (or possibly Nebraskans) of the time might have come to look at WWI and its aftermath, it’s worth checking out the book from the library. I bought mine at the Willa Cather Foundation (I couldn’t resist a paperback with a beautiful scene of Flanders poppies). If anyone else has read it, do you see similarities with The Song of Werther, by Goethe? I think it’s mostly the alienation of the main character, not writing style or subject matter, but I could be over-analyzing both.

Reading and the Pulitzer Prize

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams.” — Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See.

Over the years, I’ve read books that lost the Pulitzer Prize (asterisked ones were assigned reading, but still good). How many of these have you read?

  • William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury*
  • Joseph Heller’s Catch-22
  • JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye*
  • Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street

I’ve also read quite a few prize winners: Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Tales of the South Pacific by Michener, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington. Most recently, I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — interesting, nuanced, and sort of left hanging, so the book finishes days later in your brain as you resolve the different parts. A tone of wonder and different ways of looking at things (or feeling things) got me past the WWII setting. But it’s a book that demands time (95 pages in, and I finally found my stride).

Now I’m back reading Willa Cather’s One of Ours, (I have a huge case of “Catheritis”)… and enjoying the completely different, tone of smalltown America. Small details like: farmers in Nebraska, during the outbreak of what would be WWI, struggling to understand what Luxembourg was, and heading to the attic for the unused Atlas. The first who volunteered before the draft, and walked into something bigger than them, that changed how the USA thought about itself. So, once I’m done this one, do you think I should start on the ones that lost (because the writing of these is normally quite good as well)?

Reading (and traveling): My Antonia by Willa Cather

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Red barn near Lincoln. Go cornhuskers, go!

Earlier in the month, I was driving through Nebraska, and decided to avoid the University of Nebraska game (traffic around Lincoln is normally pretty calm, unless everyone is driving to the game with red N pennants waving from their windows).

I looped down to Red Cloud, not far from Kansas’ border, to see the landscape described in Willa Cather’s novel, My Ántonia. If you haven’t read it (either because it wasn’t in your high school curriculum, or you didn’t grow up in the USA), this slim book is worth trying if for nothing else to give a sense of the open expanse, and lonely beauty of the land the author grew up surrounded by. It is interesting to see how the people of Red Cloud peopled many of Willa Cather’s most memorable stories. (Can’t figure out if the people in the stories were long past, or if anyone felt nervous being friends with her, with her ability to transform local gossip into stories.)

I started rereading My Ántonia prior to setting off on my journey, and it was lovely to be see the landscape scroll out in front of me while I drove. One of my cousins had mentioned that many of the people of Nebraska were leaving the areas where their ancestors had homesteaded, and were deserting the land for the cities. And Red Cloud seemed no different, although possibly everyone was watching the Cornhusker game. On a Saturday afternoon, their downtown looked deserted and there were few options for lunch until I got further north above Division street. I was too late to get into the Cather Childhood home, but I had a lovely time exploring the Red Cloud Opera House, and driving around town to see the different locations mentioned in the Willa Cather Foundation Town Tour. The people who work in the Willa Cather Foundation were lovely, and helped me to find a copy of One of Ours, Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that seems to be unobtainable elsewhere. Link to a virtual Catherland here:, where you can virtually visit the prairie at dawn, or look inside the Cather childhood home from your own living room.

It’s hard to explain the appeal of the prairie. Most places in Nebraska have planted redcloudprairietrees to remind people of the Europe or eastern US they left for homesteading. There are few trees, maybe a few cottonwoods, and the hot wind from Kansas buffets you as the temperature rises to 100 degrees F. There isn’t a person to be seen if you go down a hill away from the highway.  But here is the landscape as it was, with prairie chickens that dance in the early morning, and a world filled with relentlessly blue skies above. Regret: I wish I had thought to find a closer hotel, so I could have gone out there to stay for the sunset and watch the stars come out.

If you want a unique visit to an author’s house, Red Cloud and the prairie provides a place that is still rooted in the world that the author wrote about. Filled with grit blown by the wind, tucked away, and worth the drive.

Flickr Photos